Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports
honda’s reinvigorated adventure tourer gets a proper rugged level-up
There’s a sense of frustration as i reach a crossroads where the sandy dirt track i’ve been riding meets a tarmac road. The track continues invitingly on the other side, through more spectacular Spanish scenery… but if i don’t turn the africa Twin adventure Sports round and head back right now, i’ll miss my slot at the end of the queue for launch photos.
This isn’t part of the official route; just a few extra solo kilometres grabbed amid the downtime of a modern media event. But already the adventure Sports has impressed enough to make me wish i could cross that tarmac and keep going for a few more hours of off-road adventure, to see how well this new derivative of honda’s africa Twin lives up to its name.
Such a ride, or ideally an even longer one, would be just what the adventure Sports has been created for. The new-generation africa Twin has been a hit since its introduction two years ago. it updated one of honda’s most iconic models in suitably distinctive fashion, belatedly gave the firm a serious adventure-class contender, and has sold over 50,000 units worldwide, roughly half of them in europe.
But while honda’s bold decision to attack the dominant litre-plus beasts with a lighter and less powerful 998-cc parallel twin has been vindicated, the reborn africa Twin has struggled in a few areas. in particular, its wind protection, fuel range, suspension travel, and ground clearance have limited its suitability for long-distance travel, especially when the going gets tough.
That’s especially true when the honda is compared with the beefed-up variants such as BMW’s GS adventures, kTM’s adventure Rs, and Ducati’s Multistrada enduro that broaden their respective families. So honda have joined in by introducing the adventure Sports as a similar dirt- and distance-friendly derivative.
The new model is based on an africa Twin that is itself updated for 2018. There’s no change to the eight-valve parallel twin engine, with its unicam SOhC cylinder-head and 270-degree crankshaft layout. But the balancer mechanism is 300 grams lighter, intake trumpets are longer (for improved mid-range output), and the exhaust system is new. The mods don’t alter the maximum output of 95 PS at 7,500 rpm or the peak torque figure of 99 Nm that arrives 1,500 rpm earlier.
Main engine-related change is the adoption of ride-by-wire throttle control, which allows four riding modes: Tour, softer urban, off-road Gravel and a programmable user. Changing modes, by pressing a button on the left bar, adjusts power output, engine braking (through three settings) and traction control. The latter, which can also be tweaked directly via a lever on the left bar, now works more subtly, by cutting fuel as well as ignition.
Other changes to the standard Twin include wider foot-rests, plus reshaped pillion foot-rest hangers that are better tucked in when the rider is standing. electronic updates introduce selfcancelling indicators and a redesigned instrument panel that sits flatter, to enhance visibility when riding standing up. a lighter battery saves 2.3 kg; stainless steel spokes should better resist their predecessors’ tendency to corrode.
The adventure Sports adds a slightly bigger fairing and taller screen, crash-bars around the fairing, and a substantial aluminium bash-plate below the sump. its 5.4-litre larger fuel tank brings capacity to 24.2 litres without losing the slimness that contributes to the Twin being one of honda’s most attractive bikes, especially in the traditional, 1980s africa Twin blue-white-red that is the adventure Sports’ only colour, of the four base-model options.
Main chassis change is longer Showa suspension, which gives an extra 20 millimetres of travel at each end (at 224 mm front and 240 mm rear) and, like the standard model’s, is multiadjustable but with no semi-active option. For easier riding when standing up, the handlebar is moved up by 32.5 mm and rearwards by five mm.
The adjustable seat is flatter and taller by 50 mm, at 900 or 920 mm.
That inevitably makes the adventure sports more difficult to climb aboard (two lower accessory seats are available), even if you’re tall. But its basic slimness and the relatively light kerb weight of 243 kg (the optional Dual Clutch Transmission adds 10 kg to that) meant it felt manoeuvrable and rider-friendly as we headed out from the launch base in the hills north of Malaga in southern spain.
Immediately I was reminded that the africa Twin’s flexible, characterful and modestly powerful parallel-twin engine is central to its appeal. The adoption of ride-by-wire hasn’t marred the sweet throttle response and the new exhaust manages to sound improbably throaty, contributing to an enjoyably involving character.
The honda pulled cleanly from as low as 2,000 rpm in the lower gears, picked up the pace through the mid-range and rumbled along feeling effortlessly smooth at 130 km/h, heading on towards a top speed of about 200 km/h. It’s brisk rather than truly quick and won’t absorb the extra weight of a pillion and luggage like more powerful bikes, but it’s fast enough to be fun and provides an ideal excuse to keep the throttle wound open.
such is the engine’s gentle nature that you’d rarely require anything other than the full-fat Tour mode on the road, though Urban’s Level 2 throttle response is only slightly less urgent. There’s a bigger difference to Gravel, whose softer Level 3 response is for loose surfaces only. The levels of engine braking and traction control are also fixed for the three riding modes.
I found this slightly irritating, because engine braking is curiously light in the Tour and Urban modes’ Level 2 setting, so I had to select the customisable User, which allowed me to choose Level 1 for what felt like a normal amount of assistance when closing the throttle. similarly, nanny honda has decreed that traction control for all three fixed modes is the highly intrusive
On tarmac the Honda’s high-speed stability was excellent and the narrow front wheel allowed reasonably light steering despite its 21-inch width
Level 6. This can then be reduced by flicking your left index finger a few times, but why not let the rider fine-tune all the modes, as, for example, Ducati do?
on a blustery day I was disappointed that the adventure sports doesn’t answer one common africa Twin criticism by providing adjustment for its screen, which is 80 mm higher than the standard screen but shorter than the Touring accessory. Being very tall, I like the Touring screen but find the standard one far too short. I didn’t mind the sport’s half-way house too much but it generated turbulence that would have been annoying on a longer trip.
Project leader Kenji Morita said they’d considered an adjustable screen before sticking with simplicity and light weight (and presumably lower cost). But when rival adventure bikes offer effective, one-handed adjustability, honda’s inflexibility is surely a drawback. same for the continued lack of cruise control, which can only be due to cost. on the other hand, I was very glad of the standard-fitment heated grips, although even the highest setting didn’t seem particularly hot.
other features followed a similar pattern of useful but not quite sorted. There’s a power socket on the dash, but no UsB socket or compartment for phone or coins. and there’s a storage compartment on the right of the seat, apparently inspired bya similar one on the original africa Twin, but instead of being lockable it is secured by two allen bolts, so is neither convenient nor secure. for me the repositioned instrument console was clear, if slightly cluttered, but some shorter riders found its shallow angle reflecting the sky.
at least the new fuel tank is capacious, its 24.2 litre capacity being good for over 500 km at 4.6 l/100 km, if you believe honda, or a still very respectable 400 km at my launch average of 5.7 l/100 km. another useful addition is the rear carrier, which extends either side of and at the same height as the pillion seat, forming a broad base on which to strap even a large bag.
Main engine-related change is the adoption of ride-by-wire throttle control, which allows four riding modes
If even this better-equipped africa Twin still has a few rough edges, they’re easier to accept when the basic engine and chassis package works so well — both on- and off-road. on tarmac the honda’s high-speed stability was excellent and the narrow front wheel allowed reasonably light steering despite its 21-inch width.
The long-travel suspension didn’t have a particularly adverse effect on road-going handling either. sure, there was a bit more diving when I braked hard with the unchanged blend of 310mm wavy discs and four-pot nissin radial calipers, especially if I squeezed hard enough to activate the new hazard system that flashes both rear indicators under heavy deceleration. But the new, multi-adjustable forks’ extra damping, especially on compression, helped keep the bike respectably stable even when the road got twisty and the standard-fitment Bridgestone adventure a41s were working hard.
Those narrow wheels helped the adventure sports steer very controllably off-road, too, especially the next day when we swapped to knobblier Conti TKC80 rubber. These gave
reassuring grip even on the damp and sandy dirt track, where the Gravel mode’s reduced power would have been fine but I preferred it in combination with the User mode’s option of additional engine braking.
here the africa Twin’s low-rev grunt, sweet fuelling and reasonably light weight were welcome, along with its well-balanced feel and the quality of its suspension, which soaked up bumps with notably more composure than the standard Twin’s springs. I didn’t totally trust the traction control, a simple wheel-speed system, but it offered some assistance in its less intrusive settings. The aBs, which as before can be disabled for the rear wheel but not the front, was impressive even on gravel.
The Twin’s ergonomic changes were welcome. The taller bars meant that I didn’t have to reach down too far when standing on the pegs, whose extra width gave better leverage and a more natural stance. I was also glad of the crash-bars and bash-plate, given that last time I rode an africa Twin off road, I tipped off in a rut, then holed an engine cover on a sharp rock.
honda’s latest Dual Clutch Transmission system impressed, too. The conventional model’s six-speed box worked fine and can be fitted with an optional quick-shifter. on dirt roads I appreciated the way the DCT system let me ignore my big, inflexible left motocross boot and ride the bike like an automatic, occasionally brushing a button with my left thumb, on approaching a bend, to change down.
Pressing the G button on the dash gives more direct drive, but I didn’t find DCT delay a problem even without it. The system occasionally shifted up slightly early, even when in the most aggressive sport mode. (as before, DCT can also be used in Manual, changing up and down with index finger and thumb respectively.) The assistance of a conventional clutch with slow-speed control is sometimes useful, especially in more technical or slippery ground. But unless I was planning to ride in such conditions frequently, I’d be very tempted to pay the extra for a system that can make off-road riding remarkably effortless.
It was difficult to think of an adventure bike that would have been more enjoyable or notably quicker on that occasionally bumpy dirt-track. or, when I reached the crossroads, one that would have made me so tempted to keep going, ideally until the big tank ran almost dry. The adventure sports doesn’t eliminate all the africa Twin’s limitations, but it does add range, ruggedness, and useful features to what was already a very classy and capable all-rounder.
Left-side switchgear includes rider mode toggle and finger paddles for the DTC, while you can switch between auto and manual modes via the right-side switchgear
Informationpacked display takes some getting used to
Upswept exhaust keeps out of harm’s way
Beefy crash bars mean business